Over the last decade, there have been plenty of awkward moments to report on while covering the Kings. Oftentimes, the events are stranger than fiction.
Just a few that stand out include the time co-owner George Maloof spoke to reporters from a bell check closet in a Dallas hotel during an NBA Board of Governors meeting. Neither the Q&A, nor the BOG meeting went well for Maloof.
There was an odd “Game of Thrones” opening night with purple orbs and people dressed in cloaks. DeMarcus Cousins was thrown out of a game and then summoned back from the locker room. And there was a time when Austin Rivers flung a seat cushion into the crowd, hitting an unsuspecting Kings fan in the face two rows above our media seating.
Out of all of the crazy moments, the short window that NBA legend George Karl coached the team during the 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons stands out as particularly dark. Karl, who should already be in the Hall of Fame with his 1,175 career regular-season victories, lasted just 112 games in Sacramento and it was a disaster from the start.
On the latest edition of the Truth + Basketball podcast, Karl, as well as former Kings assistant Vance Walberg, open up about their time in Sacramento. The conversation included a deep dive into one extremely memorable moment that happened early in the 2015-16 season.
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Karl was brought in to coach the Kings in February of 2015 after the team had already dispatched both Michael Malone and Tyrone Corbin. He posted an 11-19 record down the stretch and headed into the summer with another three years on his newly signed contract, but not before making a statement that put him on the hot seat.
“I’ve had some great players and I’ve never had one player that I have said is untradeable,” Karl told the Sacramento media at the time. “You always got to be ready for the possibility of a great trade that could come your way.”
That statement didn’t sit well with the players, specifically Cousins or his agent, who had issues with the coaching legend in the past. Karl would later apologize for the comment, but not before trying to move his star player during the summer, which Walberg confirmed during the taping of the podcast.
“The thought was maybe to try to do what we did in Denver when they flipped Carmelo, that changed Denver pretty big time,” Walberg explained. “See if there is somebody out there that would want to flip DeMarcus.”
According to Walberg, then general manager Pete D'Alessandro was in the room for the discussion. He would leave the Kings organization shortly thereafter and made it known, at least to his new employers in Denver, that Cousins was on the block.
The idea got out in the open, which tattered the relationship between Cousins and Karl before it ever really had a chance to get going. Cousins even turned to social media with an incredibly cryptic tweet aimed at his head coach.
Karl defended his decision during the interview. The Kings lacked talent and the idea was to potentially trade Cousins in a deal for multiple players that might help the team win.
“I didn’t want to trade Cousins, unless it made our basketball team better,” Karl explained. “That was my job. Make it better.”
When the Kings returned after the summer, there was tension dating all the way back to media day and the start of training camp. Despite an improved roster, with additions like Rajon Rondo, Marco Belinelli, Kosta Koufos, Caron Butler and rookie Willie Cauley-Stein, the Kings got off to a rough start.
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After dropping eight of their first nine games, including an embarrassing 106-88 drubbing at home to the San Antonio Spurs on Nov. 9, the media was held outside the locker room for longer than usual.
We would find out afterward that minutes before the media was allowed in, Cousins had unloaded on Karl in dramatic fashion.
“As soon as [Karl] walks in DeMarcus just goes off, I mean, off,” Walberg explained. “Coach hasn’t even said a word and it’s ‘F you coach, you think you’re an F-ing Hall of Fame coach, all the hell you care about is your wins, you don’t give a s--t about us.’”
According to Walberg, the rant from Cousins went on for nearly a minute. When the coaching staff went to management the next day expecting a 3-5 game suspension, they instead walked away understanding that Cousins wouldn’t be punished and their days as a coaching staff in Sacramento were numbered.
When the media was finally let into the room that evening, it was clear that something had transpired. Players were grouped together in their locker stalls and the entire feel was different than usual. And then things got downright weird.
As we prepared to interview players, rap mogul Drake walked through a side door and into the locker room with owner Vivek Ranadivé and team executive Vlade Divac.
The surreal scene played out in real time, as Drake tried to work the room and greet a completely silent locker room. His arrival was not well-received by the players ,and lasted only a minute or two before Drake hugged Cousins and then left the building.
According to both Karl and Walberg, this was the beginning of the end for the coaching staff.
“It was probably the rudest, the worst I’ve ever seen of any game in my life, what happened in that locker room after we played San Antonio that night,” Walberg explained.
The next day, the coaching staff met up and expected the franchise to drop the hammer on their budding star.
“DeMarcus and I had a confrontation after the game and we meet the next morning and we have a long serious talk that we can turn this into a win,” Karl recalls. “Because we’ve got to suspend DeMarcus and whatever it is, for two or three games, and maybe he’ll wake up that he can’t be the boss. We went in and fought very hard that we had to suspend him.”
That’s not the direction the franchise chose to take. Instead, they sided with Cousins and allowed him to resume playing under Karl. The message was clear.
“How are you going to have control in the locker room when you’ve got a player that can say and do what he wants?” Walberg said.
Karl almost was relieved of his duties heading into the All-Star break that season. He survived in the short-term, but Divac let Walberg go before the team played another game.
“He knew he could divide the organization from the coach,” Karl said of Cousins. “Unfortunately, if he knew that, then the players knew that.”
Divac let Karl go following the 2015-16 season despite the coaching legend posting a 33-49 record, which was the franchise's best mark in more than a decade. The Kings also were forced to pay out the final two years on his contract.
Cousins remained with the Kings until the mid-way point of the 2016-17 season, when Divac traded him to the New Orleans Pelicans for Buddy Hield and a first and second-round pick.
The story isn’t new, but the perspective of the events from Walberg and Karl is. It’s not often that a legendary coach gets destroyed in the locker room by an All-Star player minutes before Drake stops by for a visit.